Under the Radar Festival 2012 Roundup #3
Reports on Chimera, In the Solitude of Cotton Fields, and Word Becomes Flesh.
A woman discovers that the son she gave birth to is not her own in Chimera, an intriguing solo play co-created by performer Suli Holum and writer Deborah Stein, now being presented by HERE as part of Under the Radar.
The show tells the story of Jennifer Samuels, a microbiologist who in researching the cause for a benign pediatric heart murmur afflicting her son Brian, finds out that she possesses two sets of DNA, a rare medical condition known as chimerism. The show raises some provocative questions, such as how much DNA is required to make up a person, and similarly, if it's not what you consider to be your own genetic material that has gone into the creation of a child, then what responsibility do you actually have to him?
Holum portrays all the roles in the play, giving each a distinct manner of speaking. The characters not only include both Jennifer and Brian, but also a mysterious narrator figure that the script refers to as "The Coffee Lady." It's this persona that the audience first meets, and who often interacts directly with patrons in a friendly and amusing manner.
A crucial component of the performance is the well-executed video design by Room 404 Media / Kate Freer and Dave Tennent. Images such as strands of DNA and video doppelgangers of Holum are projected onto the white surfaces of Jeremy Wilhelm's set, which is meant to represent a kitchen.
Still, it's Holum's live performance that will no doubt prove most memorable, as she possesses a remarkable charisma that is sure to charm audiences.
-- Dan Bacalzo
A potentially cutting tale of how modern relationships are commoditized proves to be a leaden affair in In the Solitude of Cotton Fields, playing at La MaMa's Club space.
Directed by Radoslaw Rychcik and featuring the music of the Polish punk band Natural Born Chillers, the deafening show almost completely deadens from its outset, when its two performers, Wojciech Niemczyk and Tomasz Nosinski, take to the stage, spasmodically flailing to the pounding music. By the time it has reached its conclusion (an extended video segment in which porn is interspersed with cartoons and scenes from Hollywood westerns), theatergoers will find their patience with the work completely drained.
The story, which is based on a text by Bernard-Marie Koltès, tells the tale of two men who meet late one night and attempt to make some kind of connection. As the supertitles for the Polish-language piece are often obscured by smoke and lights (and even the performers themselves), theatergoers may find themselves creating their own context for the men's encounter. At its core, the story seems to revolve around an older gay man (Niemczyk), known only as The Dealer, who's come across a younger one (Nosinski), known as The Client, who is hoping to have his first gay sexual experience.
If this is the case, there is one sequence in which the piece does actually spark to life. Once The Client has committed to following through on his desires, Nosinski slowly undresses and stands, shivering naked in stark light, evincing an unbearably painful vulnerability. When The Dealer sees him, he slowly offers his suit jacket to the younger man, who rejects it. The implication would seem to be that carnality would be acceptable to The Client, but not intimacy.
This beautiful and painful sequence, however, is the exception in the production, which otherwise thunders bewilderingly at spectators, who are vainly attempting to make their own connection with the show.
-- Andy Propst
A dynamic five-man cast brings to life The Living Word Project's Word Becomes Flesh, a poetic exploration of black masculinity structured as addresses to an unborn son, now at the Public Theater.
Marc Bamuthi Joseph directs this adaptation of his 2003 solo show, which has been expanded and features writing contributions from the actors -- Khalil Anthony, Dahlak Barthwaite, Daveed Diggs, Michael Turner, and B. Yung, as well as onstage DJ Dion Decibels.
The division of the narrative into five distinct bodies and voices may be initially confusing, as it's unclear whether they are meant to be speaking as the same man, or different men. It's probably best to think of them as variations on a theme, or as Joseph's way of expanding his original vision so that the multiple bodies stand in for even more men who have similar experiences.
"Every day begins with a black man on the run," goes the refrain in an early segment of the show. Rather than embracing his imminent fatherhood, the speaker is already considering abandoning his child, just as his own father abandoned him. The theme of running out recurs throughout the performance as different members of the cast take center stage.
Diggs proves to be the strongest actor in the troupe, bringing out the humor in the stories he tells, as well as wrapping his words around his rhymes in such a casual manner that it feels truly conversational. Also making a strong impression is Barthwaite, who delivers a monologue about hip hop music -- its hard and fast rhythms, which he loves, as well as its blatant misogyny, which fuels the anxiety he felt when he wasn't sure what gender his child would be.
Although there is no choreographer credited, dance proves to be a crucial part of the performance, with the actors' movements complementing the spoken word narratives. And while the incredibly earnest show, which runs just over an hour, is not free from cliché, it nonetheless remains compelling throughout.
-- Dan Bacalzo